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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Aurelian Saves Zenobia

By William Ware (1797–1852)

[Born in Hingham, Mass., 1797. Died at Cambridge, Mass., 1852. From Zenobia; or the Fall of Palmyra. 1838.]

A SOUND as of a distant tumult, and the uproar of a multitude, caught the ears of all within the tent.

“What mean these tumultuous cries?” inquired Aurelian of his attending guard. “They increase and approach.”

“It may be but the soldiers at their game with Antiochus,” replied Probus.

But it was not so. At the moment a Centurion, breathless, and with his head bare, rushed madly into the tent.

“Speak,” said the Emperor, “what is it?”

“The legions!” said the Centurion, as soon as he could command his words, “the legions are advancing, crying out for the Queen of Palmyra! They have broken from their camp and their leaders, and in one mixed body come to surround the Emperor’s tent.

As he ended, the fierce cries of the enraged soldiery were distinctly heard, like the roaring of a forest torn by a tempest. Aurelian, baring his sword, and calling upon his friends to do the same, sprang toward the entrance of the tent. They were met by the dense throng of the soldiers, who now pressed against the tent, and whose savage yells now could be heard,—

“The head of Zenobia.”—“Deliver the Queen to our will.”—“Throw out the head of Zenobia, and we will return to our quarters.”—“She belongs to us.”

At the same moment the sides of the tent were thrown up, showing the whole plain filled with the heaving multitude, and being itself instantly crowded with the ringleaders and their more desperate associates. Zenobia, supporting the Princess who clung to her, and pale through a just apprehension of every horror, but otherwise firm and undaunted, cried out to Aurelian, “Save us, O Emperor, from this foul butchery!”

“We will die else!” replied the Emperor; who with the word sprang upon a soldier making toward the Queen, and with a blow clove him to the earth. Then swinging round him that sword which had drunk the blood of thousands, and followed by the gigantic Sandarion, by Probus, and Carus, a space around the Queen was soon cleared.

“Back, ruffians,” cried Aurelian, in a voice of thunder, “for you are no longer Romans! back to the borders of the tent. There I will hear your complaints.” The soldiers fell back, and their ferocious cries ceased.

“Now,” cried the Emperor, addressing them, “what is your will, that thus in wild disorder you throng my tent?”

One from the crowd replied—“Our will is that the Queen of Palmyra be delivered to us as our right, instantly. Thousands and thousands of our bold companions lie buried upon these accursed plains, slain by her and her fiery engines. We demand her life. It is but justice, and faint justice too.”

“Her life!”—“Her life!”—arose in one shout from the innumerable throng.

The Emperor raised his hand, waving his sword dropping with the blood of the slain soldier; the noise subsided; and his voice, clear and loud like the tone of a trumpet, went to the farthest bounds of the multitude.

“Soldiers,” he cried, “you ask for justice; and justice you shall have.”—“Aurelian is ever just!” cried many voices.—“But you shall not have the life of the Queen of Palmyra.”—He paused; a low murmur went through the crowd.—“Or you must first take the life of your Emperor, and of these who stand with him.”—The soldiers were silent.—“In asking the life of Zenobia,” he continued, “you know not what you ask. Are any here who went with Valerian to the Persian war?” A few voices responded, “I was there,—and I.—and I.”—“Are there any here whose parents, or brothers, or friends, fell into the tiger clutches of the barbarian Sapor, and died miserably in hopeless captivity?”—Many voices everywhere throughout the crowd were heard in reply, “Yes, yes,—Mine were there, and mine.”—“Did you ever hear it said,” continued Aurelian, “that Rome lifted a finger for their rescue, or for that of the good Valerian?”—They were silent, some crying, “No, no.”—“Know then, that when Rome forgot her brave soldiers and her Emperor, Zenobia remembered and avenged them; and Rome fallen into contempt with the Persian, was raised to her ancient renown by the arms of her ally, the brave Zenobia, and her dominions throughout the East saved from the grasp of Sapor only by her valor. While Gallienus wallowed in sensuality and forgot Rome, and even his own great father, the Queen of Palmyra stood forth, and with her royal husband, the noble Odenatus, was in truth the savior of the empire. And is it her life you would have? Were that a just return? Were that Roman magnanimity? And grant that thousands of your brave companions lie buried upon these plains: it is but the fortune of war. Were they not slain in honorable fight, in the siege of a city, for its defence unequalled in all the annals of war? Cannot Romans honor courage and conduct, though in an enemy? But you ask for justice. I have said you shall have justice. You shall. It is right that the heads and advisers of this revolt, for such the senate deems it, should be cut off. It is the ministers of princes who are the true devisers of a nation’s acts. These, when in our power, shall be yours. And now, who, soldiers! stirred up this mutiny, bringing inexpiable shame upon our brave legions? Who are the leaders of the tumult?”

Enough were found to name them;

“Firmus! Carinus! the Centurions Plancus! Tatius! Burrhus! Valens! Crispinus!”

“Guards! seize them and hew them down. Soldiers! to your tents.” The legions fell back as tumultuously as they had come together; the faster, as the dying groans of the slaughtered ringleaders fell upon their ears.

The tent of the Emperor was once more restored to order. After a brief conversation, in which Aurelian expressed his shame for the occurrence of such disorders in the presence of the Queen, the guard were commanded to convey back to the palace of Seleucus, whence they had taken, Zenobia and the Princess.